What was striking about Donald Trump’s economic speech yesterday was that most of it could have been given by Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, or indeed any other GOP candidate of the post-Reagan era. Cut tax rates, eliminate the “death tax,” reduce regulation, create tax breaks for families, and ignore the impact on the deficit – these are long-time staples of Republican politics. You can credit that to Trump’s new economic advisers Larry Kudlow and Stephen Moore, who have been crafting supply-side economic talking points for GOP politicians for four decades.
But what makes Trumponomics different is his addition of “America first” jingoism – the explicit rejection of the globalization that has powered economic growth since World War II. This is his siren call to the working class: he will “make America great again” by restricting immigration and renegotiating trade deals with China, Mexico, and others – protecting U.S. jobs in the process. “When we abandoned the policy of America First,” he said yesterday, “we started rebuilding other countries instead of our own.”
By coincidence, I had dinner last night with Joy Tan, who runs communications for Huawei – arguably the most global of China’s large companies. She presented the company’s latest “global connectivity index” which rates countries’ tech prowess, arguably the key to future economic growth, based on 40 different indicators. Number one on the Huawei list? The United States, which ranked far ahead of China, at number 23, and certainly Mexico, at 32.
Why does Huawei think the U.S. is winning the global economic battle, while Trump and his followers think we are losing? That’s the paradox of Election 2016. Many – myself included – would argue that relatively open trade and immigration policies are at the very root of the dynamism that has allowed the U.S. to continue to lead the world in the all-important technology race. But Trump – and Clinton, to a growing extent – are appealing to those who feel globalization has left them in the dust.
Which is why, despite Trump’s new supply-side rhetoric, I continue to argue that neither candidate in this race is pushing the agenda of business. Globalization is still at the very center of today’s most successful corporate strategies. But it has been voted off the island of American politics. That’s bad news for business, regardless of who wins.
By the way, Trump is far more entertaining without a teleprompter. I doubt he will make using one a habit.